Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

What do you do when you fall?

“Why do we fall, sir? So that we might learn to pick ourselves up.” Alfred (Batman Begins)

I was having an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday about the economic climate and the alarming rate of business closures in multiple sectors. We were sharing personal stories about how we had dealt with difficult times in our respective businesses and what things kept us plugging away even when it seemed to be the end of the road. I am sure you understand that problems are part and parcel of starting a new business or being part of a new venture. Some problems will be larger than others but you never really quite run out of them. When you solve a specific challenge in a particular segment of your business it does sometimes manifest itself in another aspect of it.

For example, suppose your business is struggling with sales generation. After brainstorming and overcoming that problem, the next challenge is often managing the inflow of new orders which the business may not be equipped to do. This forms a cycle where it is possible to continue moving forward and facing new challenges as they appear. However, it is not usually as simple as that. There are three potential stages we can go through when facing a challenge.

1. Ignore it: How many times have we been faced with a problem either of a personal nature or in a professional aspect of our life and chosen to ignore it. There have been many times that I can personally recall where we knew something was wrong with the way our business was doing a certain process yet we never changed it. Wanting a different reaction from the same action is unfortunately something that many of us find ourselves doing when we do not want to move out of our comfort zones. We pretend that our problems do not exist or are not affecting us and hope for a miraculous change. Unfortunately that usually never comes and most of the time we just end up amplifying the problems.

2. Blame somebody: This is probably the most used excuse whenever we are faced with a problem. The economy is bad, my partner cheated me, we lost our star sales person, we do not have the funds or I am not skilled enough. This is another easy way to deal with problems. We shift the blame to anyone we can, including ourselves sometimes in the face of problems we cannot pass on. This creates a detrimental and negative cycle that ends up sapping all motivation and drive we may have left in ourselves and we let our environment condition us in whatever way it deems fit. This is giving up  control in our lives by burying our head in the sand.

3, Solution: The most productive thing we can do for ourselves whenever we face a problem is to correctly identify it, document where it is stemming from, brainstorm with individuals who will be able to pinpoint pain areas and develop a set of options that can help us deal with them. As start ups, we go through some tough challenges such as getting your first big reference customer, securing funding or convincing a star player to join your team. We have to look at each of these problems with an open mind and no matter how many times we fall down, we must learn the lesson inherent in the fall, then learn to pick ourselves up again.

Most of the things discussed in this post may appear extremely obvious. I mean who wants to admit that they are actually not dealing effectively with a problem that they may have in their life. I recommend getting a piece of paper and writing down all the major problems that you may be facing in life right now whether of a personal or business nature. Next, identify how you are dealing with these problems. We are often surprised to discover that we focus so much on the fact that we have these problems, that we forget to think of  necessary solutions. In order to move forward we need to understand that problems are a natural part of life, the quality of our lives however depends primarily on how we deal with them.

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5 Steps to deal with difficult people

“Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and in-capabilities of human misunderstandings.” Ambrose Bierce

One of the habits that Stephen Covey advocates in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If there is one piece of advice I would give anyone to deal effectively with difficult people, it would be this. It is an extremely simple concept on the surface. When we look deeper and ask ourselves whether we practice it, most of us would have to respond in the negative. We are more often than not, quick to use our frames of reference and perceive the situation solely from our own angles. Before we go about labeling individuals as difficult, it is important to first understand where they are coming from and what the main drivers behind their behaviors are? Only then, can we deal with the situation effectively.

Listed below are five steps to use as a mental checklist when dealing with a difficult person:

1. Understanding Personality Types: Identify the type of person you are dealing with, only then can you determine the best way to work with this person. It is important not to get frustrated during the exploratory  stage of the personality type. This is not the easiest of processes, keeping your cool and emotional quotient under control will help you reach the most effective way of dealing with them in the shortest period of time. To learn more about the different personality types please click here.

2. Understanding the Situation: Before jumping into an argument, take time out to listen to the other person. Understanding their perspective and position on a particular situation is important. Instead of pushing our judgements onto them, we need to give them adequate room to share their point of view with us. We also need to evaluate our attitude towards the type of person and situation. How do we react usually? Are we using any negative frames of reference which make matters worse? Lastly, we need to take into account any external factors which may have triggered the situation. To learn more about understanding the situation correctly please click here.

3. Mental Game Plan: Prior to initiating a conversation, we need to ensure a clear head. Next, develop a couple of critical points to focus on during the course of the discussion, to help reach a mutually agreeable decision. Keep a laser like focus on the type of end result you are looking for. Visualize it before hand if possible, this specific exercise has helped me greatly. To learn more about devising a mental game plan please click here.

4. Language & Tone: When dealing with a difficult person, we need to keep our language and tone in check. What usually happens is, when certain buttons are pushed we tend to go on autopilot, and respond in a manner which may not be optimal. Keeping a strict control on the choice of words, sarcasm and the tone in which to conduct a conversation is critical. To learn more about the proper use of language and tone in a such discussions please click here.

5. Emotional Control: This step is by far the most critical aspect of having an effective discussion with a difficult person. During the course of a heated discussion, our emotional thresholds are often breached. When such an event takes place it has the potential to trigger an adverse reaction. Hence, we need to be aware of our personal thresholds, and develop adequate responses when they are breached. To learn more about how to control one’s emotions please click here.

This mental checklist has helped me deal with difficult people most effectively. In business we will often have to work with challenging individuals. The important thing is to keep one’s focus, practice patience and work towards a mutually beneficial end goal. I would be very interested to hear about your experiences with difficult people and your comments on how you dealt with them. What were specific challenges? How did you overcome them? I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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Emotional Control

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” Plato

I have talked about the importance of emotional control in prior posts in this series. I think it deserves its own section as well because dealing with difficult people is an extremely challenging exercise without control. A lot has been written about the importance of emotional control in life. It is a key component and defines successful people who have an inherent ability or have cultivated one to shrug of nasty comments or asides without taking it personally. Not all of us possess the patience to react with poise and calm in difficult times. It is important to learn through mistakes we make when our threshold levels are tested. 

A couple of important factors to understand in how to effectively control one’s emotions are:

1. Self Awareness: Whenever an event takes place in our life we interpret it cognitively, process it emotionally and take a particular action. Much of the time specific events trigger automatic emotional responses which may be a result of specific past experiences. Self awareness of automatic responses is vital to control our actions to the best of our abilities. This is a first step in taking greater control of our emotions.

2. Emotions & Value Systems: Stephen Covey has suggested in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that one must analyze our emotions through the lens of our value system, what we believe in, who we are and who we want to be. For example, if we believe in looking at the best in people and we encounter an individual who only looks for flaws, such an encounter may trigger a negative action. We need to constantly remind ourself of our beliefs and tailor our emotional responses accordingly.

3. Identify Thresholds: All of us have personal and emotional  threshold levels. When that threshold hold is reached, we can either stay in the conversation and tune out, leave the conversation and come back later or leave altogether. Depending on the situation and tolerance of threshold level, we can choose one of these three responses. It is important to make this decision in order to act in a manner keeping with our beliefs.

4. Personal Comments: During heated conversations with difficult people, be prepared to take some low blows. This is how the person is attempting to instigate a response to bring you to his/her level. All of us have points, which when pushed, can set us off. We need to learn control even when they are pushed, it is a small price to pay to reach an early agreement. If however the level of personal comments reach an unacceptable threshold level, we then need to take appropriate action.

Controlling emotions and behavior to the best of one’s ability is a responsibility for each and everyone of us. It is much easier to be the person who flares up and goes on a raving rant, than to be the one who has the patience and emotional control to weather such flare ups. My journey as an entrepreneur presents  many such situations often on a daily basis, these require and help me to think through things with an emotionally balanced perception. The moment we let our emotions slip, we make decisions that could potentially be disastrous for future business.

 

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Language and Tone

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

One of the most important factors to keep in check during any verbal interaction is, language and tone of voice. This becomes all the more important when dealing with a difficult person, who may not be controlling his/her language and tone. Undoubtedly, this is a very difficult situation, and tests a person’s patience and emotional threshold. However, one must remember, that if we fight fire with fire in such a situation it only goes from bad to worse. We need to remain committed to our mental game plan and make sure that we do not let our emotions get in the way. There will be times when you feel the verbal abuse and tone of voice is reaching unacceptable levels, this is where patience thresholds are severely tested. 

There are a couple of key factors one needs to pay attention to regarding language & tone:

1. Word Selection: During a conversation it is important to keep a strict check on the type of words used to get our point across. Words such as “never”, “always”, “fault”, “accusation” , and any sort of verbal abuse must be avoided at all costs. These words act as instigators and tend to escalate the situation rather than resolve it. Remain specific, and keep sentences as short as possible.

2. Sarcasm: As we all know, the last thing you need to be doing in the course of such a conversation or situation is to bring sarcasm into it. This conveys we have little or no respect for the other person’s point of view and our facetious remarks may intensify the situation. 

3. Tone: Choosing a derogatory manner of speaking will obviously have nasty repercussions in difficult situations. However, we tend to switch to this manner of speaking subconsciously when we feel we are superior to the other person. By taking such a stance we will not make any progress. Even if one is the boss, such a style will not only have a negative effect on this particular person but other staff members may begin to feel uncomfortable as well. It is important to approach such situations with kindness, this has an uncanny ability to diffuse tense situations.

In conclusion, the importance of remaining in control of ones language and tone, cannot be stressed enough. If not kept in check this tends to go on autopilot and has the potential to make things a lot worse. There will be times when it seems almost unbearable to deal with such situations while keeping ones cool. It is at times like these that our character is tested based on how we react under pressure. 

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Mental game plan

“To wear your heart on your sleeve isn’t a very good plan; you should wear it inside, where it functions best.” Margaret Thatcher

 Assessing personality types of difficult people, coupled with understanding the situation at hand, is essential to formulate a plan to deal with the situation in the most effective manner. Such planning helps steer conversation in a mutually agreeable direction. Without a plan and set goals in mind, we often get distracted during the course of conversations, emotions tend to complicate things further. It is therefore essential to make a habit to be mentally prepared for such occasions when we have the opportunity. If however we are confronted with a difficult person or situation by surprise, establishing key points and goals during the initial phase of the conversation is vital.

Some tips I find useful when preparing a mental game plan are:

1. Emotional Balance: First and foremost it is essential to understand the need to keep emotions in check. Without this, it is difficult to stick to any plan we develop, our emotions will get the better of us and we will in all probability do or say things we may regret. 

2. Key Points: It is beneficial to establish a couple of points to reiterate during the course of the conversation. These should be limited to around 3-4 points, and should help drive home our point of view. These points need to take into account the other person’s perspective as well. This will enable and help us reach a consensus faster.

3. End Result: Before the conversation has even started, we need to visualize how we want it to end. Establish critical decisions or factors that need to be decided upon. Visualization has helped me achieve many goals I have set out to reach. It is a very powerful exercise and should be incorporated into many aspects of our daily lives.

Charting out a game plan places us many steps ahead of the other person during negotiations and discussion processes. It helps us remain focused on primary objectives, and charts a way to help us reach our goals. 

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Understanding the situation

“The past went that-a-way. When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” Marshall McLuhan

Once we have an idea of the specific personality types we are dealing with, the next step involves looking into a particular situation or event which may trigger a negative reaction. Analyzing such situations is vital to understand where the other person is coming from, and more importantly what our stance is on the given situation. A holistic picture needs to be understood to deal with the person and situation in the most effective manner. When dealing with a difficult person, who deliberately attempts to make a given situation harder, is a tricky situation. My primary nature of work is in the HR field and I am told of such situations on a regular basis. It seems there is always one person in an office or team who gets under the skin of other colleagues consistently.

The response to this from affected colleagues is also fairly consistent. They constantly run down the person for a lack of work ethic, commitment or even manners. The mistake with this view is that we look at the scenario from an isolated perspective. Little or no attention is given to what actually triggers the other person to act in this particular manner. Often we are the ones who are viewed as difficult individuals from the other person’s perspective. Not taking into account that our personal biases or value systems may be very different from those of others we make critical errors. 

Here are a couple of pointers to help you in correctly understanding the situation at hand:

1. Personal Perspective: One of the most important factors when dealing with difficult people and situations is to first understand our own attitude towards the person or situation. Does one always take a particular stance when dealing with a particular type of person? Is this triggered by one’s own personal biases or past experiences? If there is a consistent and apparent pattern with our behavior it may in fact be making it difficult for other people to work with us, this above all, needs to be corrected first.

2. Others Perspective: Next we need to assess why another person is acting difficult. What were the factors that triggered their altered behavior? Going back to the ‘The Apprentice’ example with Omarosa and Piers, one can clearly see that Piers has a biased stance towards Omarosa because she was not a celebrity. As project manager he linked performance solely to the amount of money that every team member could raise for the task. Since this was undoubtedly Omarosa’s weak spot, she felt she was being exploited, and this caused her to become very challenging to manage. In all situations we need to establish where the other person is coming from, to understand them better.

3. External Factors: We have to be vigilant about external factors that trigger particular situations or attitudes from an individual. This comes back to the point where we need to be able to look at the larger picture and understand the cause of such behavior. Many a time it could be a new boss or major changes in the company. Either way, in order to deal effectively with a given situation these considerations need to be taken into account to do so in the most effective manner possible.

Often individuals tend to let the heat the of the moment get the better of them and say things which they would not have if they had a better understanding of the situation. This habit is not an effective way to deal with difficult individuals and situations, a change needs to be applied to be able to address given situations and people with better understanding. Special care needs to be taken when dealing with difficult people, spending time on analyzing situation better helps keep a better emotional control.

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5 Steps to Better Health

“Without health, there is no point. To anything.” Everett Mámor

Health is one of those things in life you value once you lose it. Ill health propels us to value it a lot more for a while, then we lose track of it yet again. We fail to understand that without good health, there is very little we can do. Ill health makes us realize that all the things we take for granted should be the very things we ought to be thankful for, day in and day out. As entrepreneurs we tend to push ourselves harder, as great things can only be achieved by great efforts. During this process one of the things we tend to lose track of is our health. I made that mistake recently and hence dedicated this series to help remind myself of the importance of good health.

Listed below are five factors critical to good health:

1. Sleep: Having sporadic sleep cycles can be most damaging to one’s health. Lack of sleep or inadequate and untimely sleep patterns cause lethargy and lack of concentration. This in turn results in not being able to perform optimally and eventually leads to developing related illnesses due to exhaustion. Developing and having the discipline to stick to a sleeping routine can have a positive impact on your health. To read more about developing better sleeping habits please click here.

2. Exercise: A lot of people feel tired at the mention of the word exercise. The association may be a result of associating all forms of exercise with the tedium of weights , running for miles, monotonous repetition and sweating through it all. Developing a healthy exercise routine however can start from something as simple as having a yoga or stretching routine when you wake up in the morning. It is vitally important to establish some form of exercise into your daily routine. To read more about easy exercise routines that you can adopt please click here.

3. Eating Right: Other than staying off the fatty junk food, there are many simple tips we need to integrate into our daily diet plan. I wrote about ensuring to drink enough water during the day and making sure that a healthy breakfast is how you start your day. These small changes impact greatly on energy and fitness levels. It is not necessary to go on strict diets and give up eating all favorite foods . What is important is that we make the small but important changes which will help us live a healthier life. To read more about eating right please click here.

4. Having Fun: Doing the things you love and enjoy has a deep impact on your health. It helps exude energy and a zest for life which is infectious. We have to stop sacrificing the things that bring joy to us simply to be able to assimilate into the society we live in. If you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing, there is no better time than ‘Now’ to start making the necessary changes. To read more about the importance of having fun please click here.

5. Positive Thinking: Having a positive attitude has a major impact on the quality of life. It has the ability to remind us how fortunate we are for everything we have. It helps us to shift focus from all the things we do not have, to all that we need to be grateful for. This level of inner peace creates an aura of positivity around us, which in turn attracts our wants and desires to help make our life a more fulfilling one. To learn more about the power of positive thinking please click here.

Losing perspective of the truly important factors in our lives is a mistake committed by too many people. We become so lost in the daily humdrum that we lose sight of the bigger picture. Life is way too short to miss out at truly living life to its optimum. It is important that we keep a healthy balance between work and fun in our lives. Only through such a balance can we experience a level of inner peace and help bring perspective to the chaotic lives we lead today.

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The Little Difference

“There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative.” W. Clement Stone

All of us have fundamental choices in life. We can either embrace life for all its worth and live each day to make a difference, or we can simply go about, just living. This seems like a fairly easy decision to make, and it should be, because it is! Each and everyone of us is in control of the sort of life we want to lead. The decision is completely ours, and our life is a reflection of the decisions which we have chosen to make. If anyone is not satisfied with the results so far, it is up to them to change the way they may be doing things. In truth it all comes down to, whether we are looking at the glass half empty or half full. Two people can look at the same glass with radically different perspectives. In the end, what matters is our attitude, and whether we choose it to be positive one or negative.

I must admit, most of the time I do not understand why so many people have such a negative outlook on life. The mind boggles that someone deliberately chooses to look more at the negative side of life. There has to be some driving force behind such behavior, I have yet to understand it. Being negative not only brings your own spirits down, it has a domino effect on all those who come into contact with it. It permeates into every aspect of your life, from the way you walk, hold a conversation, relationships, social interaction and the vibes you give out. An aura develops around you which only seems to attract all the things you do not want in life. Why anyone would want to do something like that to themselves is a mystery.

Life is way too short for us to be worried about all the things which are not in our control. We need to focus on factors we can do something about, and our health is one those key factors. Having a positive attitude has a major impact on the quality of life. It has the ability to remind us how fortunate we are for everything that we have. It helps us to shift our focus from all the things we do not have, to all that we need to be grateful for. This level of inner peace creates an aura of positivity around us, which in turn attracts our wants and desires to help make our life a more fulfilling one. We all have the same fundamental choices in life. The decisions we make about these choices will impact and determine the sort of life we choose to live.

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5 Step Guide about Mentors

“Successful people turn everyone who can help them into sometime mentors!” John Crosby

Mentors are essential building blocks for your business or career. They provide you with insight and advice that can only be gained from experience. The funny thing is that they want to share this insight but do not always get the opportunity to do so primarily because…..no one asks it of them. If you are looking to fast track your business or get meaningful insight into how to further your career , start looking for a mentor today. I have compiled a 5 step guide to get you started:

1. Planning for a mentor: Before asking someone to become a mentor you need to have a plan. Your plan must encompass what you are looking for in a mentor, the level of commitment required of the mentor and lastly how both of you will mutually benefit from this relationship. Remember, you need their time, which is usually their most scarce resource. Make sure that before you ask for it you know ‘why’ you are asking this. To learn more on how to plan this, click here.

2. Finding a mentor:
This is the hardest step in the entire guide. All good things in life require you work diligently towards them. This step will test your perseverance level and how badly you really want to succeed. It will require you to step out of your comfort zone, call and email individuals you never thought you could and ask for favors while not offering much in return. Trust me on this one, the effort is well worth it. To learn more about how to find a mentor click here.

3. Mentors and advice: Once you have got yourself a mentor, he/she will be giving you advice. You need to channel this advice to answer the questions you have. This requires you to be clear on the specific advice you require, to listen carefully, get multiple opinions and finally, to put the advice into action. To learn more about ways to get the most from your mentors advice, click here.

4. Mentors and connections: A key advantage of having mentors is their ability to open doors that are completely out of your reach. Whether it is getting you sales pitches you can never setup, linking you to industry veterans to get sage advice or then setting you up with pitches to angels and venture capitalists. Having a mentor help you with these aspects could end up being the difference between success and failure. To learn more please click here.

5. Mentors and strength-finder: Mentors have the ability to identify your strengths and help you develop them. This provides you with a level of affirmation that pushes you harder to reach your goals and objectives. You have to continue to focus on your strengths rather than on just improving your weaknesses. To learn more please click here.

Mentors provide startup companies with a huge competitive advantage. You need to cultivate them as soon as possible to develop momentum for your enterprise and gain as large as a lead as you can on your competition. It take a lot of effort but is most definitely worth it. So if you haven’t got a mentor yet, now will be a good time to start planning and finding one!

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Mentors and Strength-Finder

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.” Anonymous

In my personal experience with mentors the one aspect which I have benefited from most, more than the opening of doors or advice, has been the identification and affirmation of my personal strengths. Through this process I have learned from others to identify what I have the capability to do better than others and how to channel these strengths to a higher level. This process takes a lifetime to master, having a mentor is a good way to fast track it.

When you have someone who believes in your abilities, it is one of the greatest motivating forces you can find. It provided me with extra energy to get out of bed in the morning, to working & closing deals and providing motivational energy to the rest of the team through rough times.With or without a mentor you need to seek your inherent strengths. Everyone seems to be focusing on your weaknesses and how to improve them. Shift the focus on what it is that you do best, and how you can use those qualities to achieve your goals. By finding someone to help you through the identification process is a bonus.

To have such a relationship with your mentor you have to choose them wisely. You have to work at growing the relationship and making sure that both of you are benefiting from the process. The search for such a mentor is not an easy one and it takes a lot of time and effort. My advice is, put in that time and effort and then work towards taking yourself to the next level.

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